Anti-maskers and COVID deniers have been yelling about 'freedom' since the pandemic began. Now many of them are standing in the way of America's actual freedom.

  • Science deniers and anti-maskers have been crying about “freedom” for the length of the pandemic.
  • Now the US has a real chance at freedom through the vaccines.
  • But some of those same science deniers are morphing into anti-vaxxers and stopping America from getting back to normal.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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America’s anti-maskers have become America’s anti-vaxxers. 

Their argument against these common-sense precautions is personal freedom. The only problem with this logic, or lack thereof, is that their claims to freedom are causing the rest of us to lose ours. 

It would be nice to be able to dine inside with no worry, go to the movies in a packed theater, or enjoy any of the other freedoms we enjoyed before the pandemic. But that will be impossible to do with the threat of COVID — unless we reach a certain threshold of the population who are vaccinated, probably around 80%. Who is preventing us from reaching that threshold? The 1 in 4 Americans who say they’ll refuse to get vaccinated. 

Cat scratch fever

You’ve heard GOP Rep. Jim Jordan pounding the table, asking when we’re going to live our lives again. In a recent congressional hearing with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Jordan demanded to know the precise moment the world will be back to normal and harangued the infectious disease specialist about basic safety measures. By undermining Dr. Fauci, Jordan is in turn undermining our efforts to get back to normal. As Dr. Fauci expressed, it’s a paradox that Republicans legislators simply cannot seem to wrap their minds around. 

You’ve heard Sen. Ron Johnson talk double-talk on vaccines. He asked “what is the point” of getting vaccinated, undermining our attempts to reach herd immunity. By spewing this inane rhetoric, he’s all but ensuring that some followers of his in Wisconsin remain unvaccinated and get COVID.

Studies show that many vaccine-hesitant folks are in a ‘wait-and-see’ pattern and aren’t completely writing off the vaccine. A positive pronouncement from their trusted elected officials or a celebrity they admire could make a world of difference. But instead of that, we get people like Jordan, Johnson, and faded rockstar Ted Nugent. 

I’ll admit, I had a moment of schadenfreude when Nugent got COVID and whined about how bad it was. He said “it was really scary” and that he “didn’t know if [he] was gonna make it.” And, of course, he is right. COVID is scary, and nearly 600,000 of his fellow citizens weren’t as lucky as he and didn’t make it. But he remains a poster child of all “freedom-loving” COVID-deniers: anti-mask, anti-vax and making the country suffer as a result.

Former President Donald Trump, afraid to offend the faux-freedom lovers, got his vaccine in secret and waited two months to reveal it. He clearly knows that the vaccine will protect him and that his words carry a lot of weight with his MAGA disciples, up to 40% of whom don’t want a shot. But instead of shouting about the success of the vaccines and winning over his supporters, Trump doesn’t seem to care if his followers have the same protection that the vaccine provides.

The tone these guys and their brethren have set from the beginning has prolonged the crisis. Fewer masks meant more contamination. If everyone masked, fewer people would have died. And fewer vaccines prolongs the threat of COVID for everyone. 

Faux freedom

Even as more and more folks around the world get the vaccine, new COVID variants continue to emerge in unvaccinated communities. The vaccines have stayed ahead of the variants – at least for now. But if we don’t reach herd immunity soon we could find ourselves with a variant that has outsmarted the vaccine, which could lead to another lockdown.

If everyone eligible got the vaccine, we could all get our lives back as soon as Jim Jordan wants. But the “freedom” from the vaccine that the right wing clamors for could allow variants to stick around, mutate and deprive all of us again. So instead, we may have to fight variants, hunt for boosters, and mask endlessly.

In pandemics past, vaccines were the key to how our country returned to normal. There is, after all, a reason no one has contracted polio in the United States since 1979. But that didn’t happen in a vacuum. Public health officials, politicians, celebrities and everyday teenagers all teamed up to make the vaccine accessible, normal, and even “cool.” Everyone got together, and before long, polio epidemics were no more. 

Today, that seems all but impossible — not in the era of alt-right cable news and the politicians mugging for that audience. I’m not the first to say it, but instead of science leading us all to health and safety, the faux-freedom lovers are causing the rest of us to lose our freedom.

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